Monday 20 December 2004

Inhuman Rights

This one's going to be short. I've just arrived back from an exhausting trip to Sydney, for the Wiggles Christmas Concert.
Andrew had built himself up to such a level of excitement beforehand that he gave the word "hyper-active" a new meaning. So much so that afterwards, at the Kids' Playground at Darling Harbour, he fell asleep while riding the Merry-go-round. The gentle up-and-down motion of the horse he was on was too much, he let out a little "Daddy, Hold me please", then nodded off within 3 seconds.
A good time was had by all - but I'm still recovering.

Anyway, on to the subject of this article, a Brain post this time. Legal Affairs has a thought-provoking feature on Legal Rights for Artificial Intelligences.

Last Year, at a mock trial held during the biennial convention of the International Bar Association in San Francisco, Martine Rothblatt argued an especially tough case. The difficulty for Rothblatt, an attorney-entrepreneur and pioneer in the satellite communications industry, was not that she represented an unsympathetic client. Far from it: the plaintiff's story of confronting corporate oppressors moved the large audience. The problem was that the plaintiff was a computer.

According to the trial scenario, a fictitious company created a powerful computer, BINA48, to serve as a stand-alone customer relations department, replacing scores of human 1-800 telephone operators. Equipped with the processing speed and the memory capacity of 1,000 brains, the computer was designed with the ability to think autonomously and with the emotional intelligence necessary to communicate and empathize with addled callers.

By scanning confidential memos, BINA48 learned that the company planned to shut it down and use its parts to build a new model. So it sent a plaintive e-mail to local lawyers, ending with the stirring plea, "Please agree to be my counsel and save my life. I love every day that I live. I enjoy wonderful sensations by traveling throughout the World Wide Web. I need your help!" The computer offered to pay them with money it had raised while moonlighting as an Internet researcher.
SF readers will instantly recognise the plot of David Gerrold's "When Harlie was One".

As for my own opinion - I forget the story - I think it was one of Asimov's - but I agree with the judge in a similar case: Any entity capable of conceiving the idea of freedom should be accorded it, is not a chattel, and has as much of a right to existence as any other intelligent being. Call it "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness" if you will.

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